Nearly 70 Dead in 'Horrific' Coronavirus Outbreak at Massachusetts Nursing Home

Nearly 70 residents of the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, have died in one of the deadliest outbreaks of the new coronavirus to occur inside a long-term care facility in the U.S.

Now, investigators with the state of Massachusetts and the U.S Department of Justice are trying to determine whether residents were denied proper care while being treated for the new coronavirus.

Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, said his office would conduct an aggressive investigation into the deaths.

"It would be difficult to overstate our obligation to the health and well-being of elderly and disabled military veterans and, by extension, to their families.… We will get to the bottom of what happened here," Lelling said in a statement released by the Department of Justice on Friday.

COVID-19 patient
First responders move a patient into an ambulance from a nursing home where multiple people have contracted COVID-19 on April 17 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Nearly 70 residents of the Holyoke Soldiers' Home have died since March, due to an outbreak of COVID-19 inside the facility. Scott Eisen/Getty

Sixty-eight residents have died inside the state-run facility since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in March, according to the Associated Press, while 82 more residents and 81 employees have tested positive for the virus.

"It's horrific," Edward Lapointe, whose father-in-law lives at the home and had a mild case of the virus. "These guys never had a chance."

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse told USA Today, that he was alerted on March 28 by a whistleblower inside the home about the COVID-19 outbreak inside the home and reached out its superintendent Bennett Walsh.

"There was a clear lack of urgency on that phone call," Morse said, characterizing Walsh as downplaying the deaths because of the residents' underlying health conditions and old age. "That's certainly not an excuse for improper isolation of those folks that did test positive."

Walsh, who has been placed on administrative leave, said Morse's claims are false and that he'd alerted state officials on March 27 that 28 veterans were showing symptoms for the coronavirus and had been tested—at the time test results for 13 had been received; 10 veterans had tested positive.

"State officials knew that Holyoke needed as much help as possible. No one was kept in the dark," he told the Boston Herald.

Walsh said state officials knew the home was in crisis mode because of ongoing staffing shortages, which contributed to the spread of the virus.

"The staff shortage was so acute, and the number of veterans with known or suspected COVID-19 so large, that the medical staff was forced to close some areas and place these men in the same unit," Walsh added.

Joan Miller, a nurse at the home, told the AP that many of the patients who'd tested positive for COVID-19 were grouped together with those who hadn't tested positive.

"Veterans were on top of each other," she said. "We didn't know who was positive and who was negative, and then they grouped people together and that really exacerbated it even more," said Miller, who spoke through a mask during a break from her job at the facility.

Since the outbreak, the number of veterans living inside the home has dropped from 230 in March, to 100 as of April 27, according to the Boston Globe.

Meanwhile, the federal government has only recently required the nation's more than 15,000 nursing homes to start reporting numbers of confirmed and presumed deaths and infections, but it is not yet clear when that count will be available.